ALPHAS and GRIMM: tweaking tropes

Last night’s episodes of Alphas and Grimm, “Alphaville” and “Bad Moon Rising” respectively, both yielded interesting turns on genre conventions.

In the main, Alphas has been built on the fundamental structure of the X-Men universe, making being an Alpha into a choice between integration/peaceful co-existence with the rest of humanity and waging war. The one notable exception to this narrative was shown in last season’s “Catch and Release”, wherein Rosen decides to give Skylar Adams a pass on both joining the team and being shipped to Binghamton. In “Alphaville”, directed by Nick Copus and written by Michael Chamoy, we are shown a whole community of Alphas who just want to be left alone, and who have no desire to be be part of the conflict between Rosen and Stanton Parish. In fact, Rosen is pretty universally reviled for having outed Alphas to the world, an event that compelled many in the camp to seek shelter in the first place.

In X-Men, there is no prominent third way; the different alliances and political permutations in the overarching narrative have stayed within the bounds of peace vs. war. The closest analog I could think of to the community in “Alphaville” is the Morlocks, but there are important differences between the two groups.

First, the Morlocks came to be because of discrimination, or fears of discrimination, against mutants with visible mutations. While there is the suggestion that Rosen’s broadcast forced at least some to drop off of the grid, we have yet to meet an Alpha who couldn’t pass for ‘neurotypical’, to use a term increasingly in circulation on the series, or who, like Gary and Anna, could pass as having some kind of ‘disability’. Second, the Morlocks, while in hiding, are nonetheless living underground in Manhattan and in close proximity to mainstream society, including the different mutant factions on the surface. The members of Skylar’s community are trying to be as remote as possible from the world at large and while their motivations are not dissimilar from the mutants who make the Morlocks, achieving some kind of socio-political independence and making their own ‘normal’ seem more important than simply staying out of sight.

The main point here would be that very few mutants who did not feel that they had to would join with the Morlocks, while the community in “Alphaville” could be attractive to many different kinds of Alphas. In this particular episode, it rang true to me that Nina and Gary would contemplate dropping out.

Clearly, at the end of “Alphaville” the continued viability of a third way for Alphas is meant to be questioned. I can clearly see where at least some of the members of the community would decide to join Parish’s cause, but it is hard to imagine a character like Claude, at least based on the glimpse we got here, doing anything but continuing to seek some kind of independence. What the episode illustrates well is the difficulty of remaining unaligned when caught between agents in a conflict who tend to see the world in an either-you’re-with-us-or-you’re-against-us way. Rosen seeking out Skylar in the first place shows that he sees any kind of ‘non-alignment’ as purely temporary or as an indulgence, and not as a realistic choice for an Alpha. Clearly, Stanton Parish sees things the same way. Showing the similarities between those two men is, I think, an important narrative purpose of Skylar’s character and the independent community in “Alphaville”.

While Alphas addressed the dualism derived from X-Men, on Grimm last night, “Bad Moon Rising”, written by Richard Hatem and directed by David Solomon, finally provided some resolution to one of the critical sources of tension in supernatural TV drama: how the protagonist deals with their knowledge of the supernatural in relation to those who are ignorant, especially with family, friends, and colleagues.

Generally, the emphasis is on encouraging ignorance, or enabling denial, but there are always a few characters who have to be brought into the fold: Willow and Xander, later Joyce and Oz, on Buffy, for example, or Kensi (and, in some way, Bo) on Lost Girl, for another. On Grimm, Hank and Juliette are the characters around which this question has been most relevant. Juliette remains difficult and complicated for many reasons, and not just her mystical memory loss, but because she highlights many of the reasons why the protagonists on these shows want to keep all the magic and monsters, and their knowledge of same, hidden. There is always the risk that the people will think you’re crazy, or trying to hide something else with wild stories about demons and witches, or that sharing what you know will make the people you care about vulnerable in ways they wouldn’t be otherwise. Of course, that second point cuts both ways, which is one reason why, I think, Nick tried to being her in at the end of last season.

Thus far the series has been inconsistently written as to what gets treated as a serialized element, and what is played for effect in a single episode. As a result, until last night, I had not given much thought to how Hank had been dealing with what he’s seen since Nick became aware of what he is and what he can do. “Bad Moon Rising” is primarily devoted to Hank’s trauma and feelings of being unmoored and isolated by his anxieties.

Where you have a cast of characters divided between those who know about supernatural creatures and forces and those who don’t, the tension that creates is one that ultimately needs to be released. There are only so many ways to have one character hide these kinds of things from another before the situation starts to seem ridiculous. More to the point, the fun and drama that can come from this tension largely comes from wanting to see when, and not if, the characters out of the know get to be in on the action.

When that moment finally comes, this is what typically happens. After witnessing something that is hard to ignore, the main character, or some other already initiated figure, tells or affirms to the other character that monsters and magic are real. The formerly ignorant character is either so cool that they just readily accept this fact (see Kensi or Oz) or they accept after an initial denial (“Have you tried not being a slayer?”).

In the context of these kinds of shows, these responses work because the world tends to make more, and not less, sense once you know that there are vampires, demons, and whatnot. Again, the drama and humor comes more from the build-up than from the resolution.

The one exception I could of think of to this pattern is Kate Lockley from Angel. In that case, Kate ends up feeling betrayed by the one person who should have been her guide, Angel, and the fact that Angel is also the same kind of creature as the one who tries to kill her casts her revelation about the supernatural in a different light that the other examples, where this is a certain detachment from what the character learns or where the person who guides them to the truth is clearly seen as an ally or protector. For the balance of Angel, up until her final appearance on the series, Kate accepts what she now knows, but would prefer not to know it (later, in the IDW comics, she is a committed monster hunter and fairly well adjusted).

What makes Hank’s learning and acceptance of the supernatural different is his sense of relief. “Bad Moon Rising” shows us a character who is falling apart at the seams and who feels alone. Knowing that he isn’t alone, and that there is a strange, but straightforward, explanation for the images he has in his head is not just “cool” or “ok”, but is actually therapeutic for Hank.

The reason that Hank finds himself in this position is that Nick has spent very little time even thinking about him and what he might have seen. Whether from insensitivity or from inexperience, it seems likely that Nick just assumed that Hank was willing to accept whatever sloppy explanation he came up with for some of their recent cases because who, in their right mind, would believe the truth. As it turns out, Hank hasn’t been in his right mind and the fact that Nick wasn’t ready for this moment is another way in which last night’s Grimm twisted convention.

This turn in the narrative is new, and there is still potential for a lot of tension between Nick and Hank, and we’ll see where the series goes from here, but having both characters in the know opens up all kinds of possibilities. It should be easier to work cases, and as suggested last night, to bring Wessen into the justice system. On the other hand, the stakes are raised in other areas, notably involving Captain Renard, as well as with cases that are less easy to present as normal crimes, and with Nick’s family, especially mom. I’m also looking forward to Hank learning specifically about Monroe. In short, as is often the case, bringing more characters into the loop should be good for Grimm.

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ALPHAS Season 2: “Alpha Dogs” & “When Push Comes to Shove”

The X-Men have always been used as metaphors for difference, opening discussions of discrimination and fear of the Other that can be refracted back onto the positions of different identities in ‘the real world’. Mutation is a complicated and heavily negotiated category in the Marvel Universe. A good argument can be made that the social significance of that category is the primary theme of the X-Men across all media. Less commonly explored is mutation as a form of personal identity, or what being a mutant means for the individual. There are hints of this in some stories involving Rogue, her decision to take the ‘cure’ in The Last Stand, for example, but overwhelmingly the concerns that animate stories featuring the X-Men are about how mutants are regarded by non-mutants.

The personal aspect of identity, what being different means for me, is emerging as a central theme in the current season of Alphas, and is a good example of how the series not only appropriates from X-Men, but also spins in different directions. The issue of personal identity and Alpha-ness is central to both episode three of season two, “Alpha Dogs”, and episode four, “When Push Comes to Shove”.

The narrative in “Alpha Dogs” revolves around the idea of a fight club for Alphas. This premise is repeated across science fiction and fantasy television. In just the last year, I’ve seen episodes of Lost Girl and Grimm founded on some version of a fight club for super-natural or super-powered beings. Invariably, these clubs are shown to be wrong somehow, either because bloodsport is inherently inhumane or because the event is corrupt. “Alpha Dogs”, written by Eric Tuchman and directed by Nick Copus, surprises by departing from this formula.

While there is corruption at the heart of the procedural part of the narrative in this episode, it is not shown to be intrinsic to the fight. Rather, the arena is shown to be a place where Alphas gather to be with other Alphas and to explore their abilities. For Bill, the effect is therapeutic and the episode ends with him showing up to throw down even after the case is closed.

Bill’s ability to do this is rooted in whatever mediation technique it is that he learns from Kat, a technique that frees him to use his powers without his usual fear of debilitation or death. The return to the fight club is a way for him to see what this freedom means, not for Rosen, or for his job, but for himself.

“When Push Comes to Shove” focuses on Nina, and the way that she has been written up through this episode reminds of how Grant Morrison wrote Emma Frost for New X-Men, at least in her willingness to work her will on others. However, whereas Emma Frost acts with a casual confidence about her abilities, and station, Nina is acting from insecurity. For her, her Alpha powers seem to carry the paradoxical fear of both getting and not getting what she wants from others.

It isn’t uncommon for super-powered characters to have personal tragedy come from, particularly, not understanding their powers when they manifest. Again, Rogue is a good case in point, Bo in Lost Girl is another, as is Liz Sherman from Hellboy/BPRD (there’s probably some significance to all of these examples being women, but I’m not prepared to think that through here). In most of these cases, the incidents tend to involve quick and deadly results. While Nina’s dad ends up killing himself, what I appreciate about how writer Adam Levy and director Omar Madha handle this story in “When Push Comes to Shove” is the way that Nina is not directly responsible for the outcome, but indirectly through her naive use of her power as a kid who just wants her parents to stay with her.

The revelation that Nina has been pushing herself is interesting, but I’m glad that the episode does not dwell on this notion as it opens a lot of questions about how her power works that I’m not sure the series is prepared to answer. As a metaphor for how deep her sadness and insecurity goes, the single shot of her engaging this move is effective.

In “Alpha Dogs” we also learn more about Stanton Parish, and while narratively he is primarily the Alphas analog to Magneto, making his personal story and power more like Wolverine’s is an interesting idea. There is clearly some significance to his being, in effect, the ‘first Alpha’ and how he responded to learning of his difference from others. This story, however, brings us back around to the social significance of Alphas. There are other indications, such as Kat’s awareness of being an Alpha before encountering Bill and Cameron, that the series is building toward more of an exploration of the social as well as the personal aspects of otherness.

In regards to the latter, I could also comment on Rachel and her efforts to cope with her heightened senses, or Gary and his mother, as well as looking at Bill and Nina. What I appreciate about Rachel’s and Gary’s stories is how they show Alphas as perhaps having been grown from Chris Claremont-era X-Men in dealing with the interpersonal relationships of the characters and incorporating aspects of soap opera into a superhero story (the kind of love triangle between Nina, Cameron, and Danielle also, obviously, reflects this influence, too).

Thus far into the second season, to the extent that Alphas can be read as an X-Men clone, it is at least being made from the stronger parts of the latter’s DNA, while also showing itself to be something other than just X-Men by another name.

See also: “On ALPHAS and X-MEN“.

On ALPHAS and X-MEN

At the end of “Catch and Release“, Dr. Lee Rosen, when given the technology to create, essentially, Cerebro, decides to destroy Skylar Adams’ device rather than put it to use in his search for Alphas. After watching Alphas, I (like many, I’m sure) often think about X-Men, and the extent to which the new series is lifting parts of its narrative from the established franchise, but also where it is recasting familiar ideas. This moment from Monday’s episode is a good entry into that discussion.

The primary difference between the program that Rosen could run and Cerebro is that the latter is in mutant hands whereas, as Rosen and his team are learning, it is not entirely clear whose hands would ultimately be holding any tracking device he might make from Skylar’s computer core. As much as Rosen and his group of Alphas are to the show what Charles Xavier and the X-Men are to the Marvel Universe (and Red Flag is effectively the Brotherhood of Mutants), Alphas are at once in a more fragile position and less part of the social consciousness than are Marvel’s mutants.

In the X-Men universe, mutants are constantly under attack or stress from non-mutants, but they also have allies and their own place, their own “nation” even, from which to build (relative) safety and solidarity. “Mutant” is also a recognized social category in the Marvel Universe (as poignantly, and recently, explored in Generation Hope #9). By contrast, the only people who seem particularly aware of the existence of Alphas are government intelligence agents and Dr. Rosen. In the Alphas storyworld, I might have an extraordinary ability, but would have no way of placing myself in relation to others. While Rosen may represent an ideology of integration between Alphas and non-Alphas, his team do not stand as a symbol of identification as the X-Men do. When and if I am identified as an “Alpha” I run the risk of being warped into a tool for the government or locked away at “Binghamton”. My best choice might be to get accepted onto Rosen’s team, but, from some perspectives, as the series has made clear, that choice  is, so far, little more than another way of being made into a government tool (this is precisely the pitch that Rosen uses on Cameron to get him on the team; be sent off to scary place or join me, either way, we own you).

One of the qualities that makes “Catch and Release” one of, if not the, best episodes of the series so far is that it raises the issue of individual rights for Alphas, or the right to choose a life that involves neither being in Rosen’s group nor in Binghamton. Rosen’s decision to enable that choice for Skylar is a sign of the more tenuous position that known Alphas find themselves in relative to mutants in the MU, which is to say, Rosen is starting to think that it might be safer, for some individuals at least, to go underground than for them to be held too close to the intelligence agents with whom he works. I have a hard time imagining Charles Xavier or Scott Summers taking a similar posture towards most mutants and the X-Men, or, certainly, Utopia. Again, I think the idea of mutants having self-determination is the crucial difference here. Alphas, as far as we know, are scattered and relatively rare, even compared to mutants post-M Day.

Another difference I have noticed between the show and X-Men in its various forms, is how the series is crossing Alpha abilities with mental conditions like Gary’s and Anna’s (“Rosetta”). In X-Men, “mutation” has become a metaphor for difference; mutant/non-mutant is the fundamental divide in the world. Being a mutant is, in the relevant contexts, like other forms of subordinated identity, but mutations generally present as their own conditions. Alphas suggests that being Alpha may present as a form of “disability”, at least when following existing norms for brain function, and for ways of communicating with others and relating with the world. To most people, or, at least, in North America, Anna and Gary already seem “special”, but the meaning of that category changes radically when you move from thinking of those individuals as “disabled” to seeing them as “super abled”, something that current social prejudices would prevent most people from doing. The fact that Rosen is a psychiatrist bolsters the idea that Alpha-ness is associated with mental illness or disability, and we know that Rachel’s parents think of her as having a disease or sickness, that Cameron has been unable to “fit in”, and so forth. As a metaphor for difference and discrimination, the x-gene is understood more in biological terms, as akin to race or sexuality, than it is understood as psychiatric or neurological.

In addition to being a psychiatrist, Dr. Rosen is also notable for not being an Alpha, and for that reason is a kind of liminal figure on the show, neither fully trusted by Alphas nor by non-Alphas. Xavier for all of his belief in homo sapien and homo superior living in cooperation, is a mutant who advocates for mutants. Rosen’s position is more ambiguous, as he himself seems to be realizing.

A lot can change on the series, particularly as the number of known Alphas increases, and if and when their existence comes to be more widely known. I think that the show has done an interesting job in giving the central cast a set of abilities that can go unnoticed or be explained away, but after too many scenes like the rescue in “Bill and Gary’s Excellent Adventure” or the Red Flag operations in “Rosetta”, it will stretch credulity to think that no one outside of government intelligence and a few known Alphas would know about people with superpowers. In either case, these are the narrative directions that will push Alphas even further onto the same ground as X-Men.

June comics

In the tfaw box this month:

Single issues:

Shorter takes:

  • Angel Yearbook (IDW). I am still planning on writing a separate post about the IDW Anglverse.
  • Birds of Prey #12 (DC). Well, just playing out the string now.
  • B.P.R.D.: The Dead Remembered #3 (Dark Horse). Liz is forced to feel the full potential of her power, but also gets to be a kid. A nice story from Mike Mignola et al, and I see that more Liz is on the way.
  • Carbon Grey #3 (Image). Lots of atmospherics and deep mythology, which, I guess is enough, because I will be looking for the next mini.
  • Generation Hope #7 (Marvel). An affirming ending. I also like Kieron Gillen’s use of Kitty in these last few issues.
  • Hellboy: Being Human & Hellboy: The Fury #1 (Dark Horse). A creepy Southern gothic one-shot and the start of a new major arc in the Hellboy saga. A good month from Dark Horse.
  • iZombie #14 (DC/Vertigo). Finally picking up on the change in title formatting. I can see the different threads coming together in the narrative here, including the Dead Presidents.
  • The Li’l Depressed Boy #4 (Image). A revelation that suggests Jazz is not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl for sure. Now, the key will be how does LDB handle this news.
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 (Marvel). I am a little confused by the numbering here, but am happy for the contuation of the epic craziness that is this book.
  • Silver Surfer #4 (Marvel). More on this next month when the series wraps.
  • Spider-Girl #7 (Marvel). Penultimate issue. More next month.
  • Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #5 (Dark Horse). Part of the good month from Dark Horse, and I guess the were buffalo was real. Don’t have as much to write about this as I thought I would, but I look forward to more Edward Grey books. These stories help to expand the historical range of the Hellboy universe.
  • X-23 # 10 and #11 (Marvel). Happy/sad that these issues did not convince me to keep pulling the title. Happy because I need to economize on comics, sad because I would like to get behind the book.
  • Uncanny X-Force #10 and #11 (Marvel). New storyline focused on Warren, alternate realities, and Dark Beast. This title remains very cool.
  • Uncanny X-Men #537 (Marvel). Kruun’s revenge continues. Lots of action. More well plotted and paced work from Kieron Gillen.
  • X-Men: Prelude to Schism #2 (Marvel). Talky.

Longer take:

Avengers Academy #14 and #14.1 (Marvel). As I remark most months, this is A’s book, but I enjoy it, too. I’m always happy to see a stable creative team on a title, and this one has clearly benefitted as Sean Chen, Scott Hanna, and Jeromy Cox have been given time to create distinct identities for the characters, and Christos Gage has been allowed to explore a set of themes related to heroism and celebrity that I don’t think would have registered as clearly as they have without a coherent vision for the book. What started as a pull for my kid, has turned into one of my more consistent reads. Nice work.

TPBs:

Approximate Continuum Comics (Fantagraphics).

Forthcoming.

Batgirl: The Flood (DC).

Forthcoming.

Clonk Volume 1 (Kettledrummer Books).

Forthcoming.

DV8: Gods and Monsters (DC). Brian Wood uses these characters to ask questions about “powers” and how people see themselves and are seen by others and how that dynamic shapes identity. I especially like the subtle variations in how the central cast respond to the situation that they are put in by the Powers that Be. Gorgeous, powerful art by Rebekah Isaacs.

Even the Giants (AdHouse).

Forthcoming.

Hellblazer: City of Demons (DC/Vertigo).

Forthcoming.

Mystique by Brian K. Vaughn Ultimate Collection (Marvel).

Forthcoming.

Osborn: Evil Incarnated (Marvel).

Forthcoming.

X-Men: Age of Apocalypse Prelude (Marvel).

Some horrendous art in the first half of the book, bizzare, plastic-y anatomy on the women. Gets better. One of those collections that helps me to fill in some of my missing history.

Yeah! (Fanatagraphics).

It is probably due to the infectious power of Gilbert Hernandez’s art that this book feels a lot like a lost “Love & Rockets” chapter. The fact that I only having a passing familiarity with Peter Bagge’s work undoubtedly contributes to that feeling, too. There’s so much going on in the faces of the characters here, including in the background, tongues sticking out, eyes dilating, mouths agape – lots of fun. Strangely, I still found reading the book kind of exhausting, lots of chatter and narration to read, full of crazy asides and whacked out science fiction fantasy, but thick. Many of the ideas about, for example, space limos and odd planets, also seems very Los Bros Hernandez, and suggests that maybe(?) more of a joint authorship than the credits imply. Then again, I haven’t read much Bagge.

Starting next month I think I will be selecting a few comics to write about more extensively for these posts rather than doing the laundry list approach.

April comics

From tfaw last month:

Single issues:

Quick takes:

  • Angel #43 (IDW). The penultimate issue at IDW. Wait until next month for more.
  • Annihilators #2 (Marvel). Well worth pulling for the bombastic storytelling and the comedy-adventure with Rocket Raccoon.
  • Avengers Academy #11 (Marvel). Christos Gage continues to do nice work in interweaving stories about the students with stories about the adults. However, for some reason A showed less interest this month.
  • Casanova: Gula #3 (Marvel Icon). Big craziness as the protagonists and antagonists switch roles and try to out clever each other.
  • Dollhouse: Epitaphs (Dark Horse). Interesting one-shot. Fills in some gaps left from the TV series. Interested to see where they take the upcoming series. Cliff Richards and Michelle Madsen do a nice job of clearly evoking a cast of minor characters from television.
  • Generation Hope #5 (Marvel). Setting the stage for the next part of story: what to do now that the new mutants have been gathered?
  • Iceman and Angel #1 (one-shot) (Marvel). Good natured fun scripted by Brian Clevinger (Atomic Robo). Some great exchanges between Bobby and Warren.
  • I, Zombie #12 (DC/Vertigo). Nice break in the regular action with Gilbert Hernandez as guest artist.
  • Li’l Depressed Boy (Image). See below.
  • The New York Five #3 (DC/Vertigo). Still hard to believe that this series will end in one more issue.
  • Scarlet #5 (Marvel Icon). Thus ends Book One. Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev continue to get a lot right about the present cultural moment in Portland, but the series still feels like prologue.
  • Silver Surfer #2 (Marvel). Liking the story from Greg Pak.
  • Spider-Girl #5 (Marvel). I read that the series will be coming to an end in June. Too bad. On the other hand, I was considering letting go because A, for some reason, refuses to read this title.
  • Spike #6 (IDW). Ummm. Some stuff happens, and Lilah shows up at the end.
  • Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #3 (Dark Horse). Big confrontation with Grey’s friend, and some spooky visitations. Nice Victorian Western from Mike Mignola et al.
  • Uncanny X-Force #5.1 and #6 (Marvel). Not sure why the “point one” issue is a supposed to be such a friendly entry into the series, but, in other news, I got to chat with Rick Remender at the Stumptown Comics Fest. Always nice to tell creators how much you like their work.
  • Uncanny X-Men #534 and #534.1 and Annual #3 (Marvel). Matt Fraction’s (current) run on the title ends with some smart and clever plotting. Kieron Gillen’s “point one” issue makes more sense to me as an entry point for at least people who know the central X characters than does the Uncanny X-Force issue. The Annual, whatever its merits, sets up a story that I do not intend to follow through the other issues.
  • Wolverine and Jubilee #3 (Marvel). Story gets kind of trippy, but then what did I expect with Kathryn Immonen on writing.
  • X-Men: Legacy #246 (Age of X Chapter 3), New Mutants #23 (Age of X Chapter 4), and Age of X Universe #1 (Marvel). The tension continues to build nicely in the main story. The “universe” installment is brutally cold.

Longer takes:

  • B.P.R.D.: The Dead Remembered #1 (Dark Horse). Mike Mignola and Scott Allie script a story about Liz Sherman as a teenager and ward of the B.P.R.D. Liz is alienated, angry, and jaded, which might be cliché, except that we know her as an adult and can see who this kid becomes. Despite her superficial similarities to other female firestarters, like Jean Grey, Liz has always been a more self-possessed character than most women featured in super hero, or super hero-esque, books. Stylish art, as expected, from Karl Moline, Andy Owens, and Dave Stewart. (And, yes, Dark Horse suckered me into buying two copies of the first issue with the alternate covers by Jo Chen and Moline).
  • X-23 #8 (Marvel). I regret to say that with this issue I have decided to end my subscription. There have been brief moments where Marjorie Liu has used this book to tell a story about Laura/X-23, but for the most part she has seemed more like a supporting player in her own book. I think that Liu has some interesting ideas about Laura and her sense of ethics, her desire for humanity, for working through her past, but too much time is directed to servicing “events”. Making this book be the next place for Jubilee is almost interesting enough to keep pulling it, but also underscores the problem I am citing as my reason to quit. I’ll keep my eye out for trades, though.

TPBs:

Batman and Robin Reborn (DC).

Yeah, this is fun. I get why people like this series. Surprisingly compelling reboot of characters you would think were well worn, especially as a pair. But Grant Morrison and his artistic collaborators make them seem new, in part, of course by giving them new secret identities and forcing the new dynamic duo to prove themselves. I am reminded, however, as to why I don’t read that many Bat-books: Gotham is depressingly depraved.

Finder Library Volume 1 (Dark Horse).

Forthcoming.

Widowmaker (Marvel).

Forthcoming.

Hellblazer Volume 1: Original Sins (DC/Vertigo).

Another series that I am happy to see reissued as it makes it easier for me to find an entry point. Want to live with the character a little longer before writing more.

Possessions Volume 2: Ghost Table (Oni Press).

Ray Fawkes’ second installment in this series is as funny as the first. Gurgazon is still the most charming/disgusting little demon in the universe. A true all ages book for anyone who likes stories about the supernatural.

X-Men First Class Volume 2 (Marvel).

These collections are fun. Jeff Parker goes for a bright and mildly troubled view of super-powered teenager-ness, and succeeds splendidly. The artwork, by Roger Cruz, principally, in pencils and inks gets the gawkiness of the age right, but, particularly with Jean, and out of costume, can veer into figures that, like actors, look about a decade or so too old for the character’s age. Not so much an issue with the charming backups with Colleen Coover. The Marvel Girl and Scarlet Witch stories are especially enjoyable.

X-Men Forever 2 Volume 3: Perfect World (Marvel).

And with that Chris Claremont’s experiment comes to an end, I gather. As I’ve written before, I liked the loopiness of the series, but did find some elements, the willingness to kill off big characters, for example, a little tiring. I did like the resolution of the Storm/Ro/Ororo story, especially the reappearance of the mohawk.

From Bridge City Comics:

Takio (Marvel Icon).

Forthcoming.

Li’l Depressed Boy #1 and #2 (Image). Glossed over this in my news feeds, but after taking a second look, decided I would like to try it out, especially because I think A will like it (now, to get her to read it). In the opening issues S. Steven Struble and Sina Grace walk a fine line with the characters. LD does not show any of the entitlement of a Nice Guy, yet, and Jazmin is too prickly to be a full on Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but both could turn into those stereotypes.

From the Corvallis Book Bin:

Gear School (Dark Horse).

Picked this one up for A. Adam Gallardo (writer) and Nuria Peris & Sergi Sandoval (art) pack a lot of worldbuilding into a short book. Gallardo’s script is open-ended without sacrificing fulfillment of the immediate story. My primary problem with the book is that Peris and Sandoval draw the girls too old in the way that most actors who play high schoolers are actually in their 20s (or even 30s). It would have been interesting if Teresa had looked more her age instead of like a young adult. The meaning of story is confused by this artistic choice.

The Goon Volume 1: Nothin’ But Misery (Dark Horse).

Forthcoming.

Monkey vs. Robot (Top Shelf Productions).

More all ages fun. James Kolchaka writes and draws a story that can be read either as a “Spy vs. Spy” type battle and/or as an ecological fable about technology and progress. Most notably, it is easy to feel for both of the main characters at the end.

I will make a separate post of my purchases from Stumptown.

March comics

From tfaw:

Single issues:

Quick takes:

  • Angel #42 (IDW). Elena Casagrande (with an “assist” from Emanuel Simeoni) is back on pencils and inks, giving the issue a kind of familiarity. Most interesting aspect of this month is the reintroduction of Illyria, post-transformation (see below).
  • Annihilators #1 (Marvel). This looked like it might be fun, so I pulled it. Main story is a looong prologue, but Dan Abnet and Tan Eng Huat (with Victor Olazaba and June Chung) keep things interesting by structuring the narrative around hand-to-hand combat. The backup with Rocket Raccoon is fastpaced and well set-up by Abnet and Andy Lanning.
  • Atomic Robo: Deadly Art of Science #4 (Red 5). The plot with Edison thickens. Wry and funny rematch with the giant robot.
  • Avengers Academy #9 and #10 (Marvel). A looks forward to this title every month, so the double issues in the box for March was a nice bonus for her. Christos Gage continues to show strong storytelling weaving together plotlines inolving both teachers and students.
  • B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: Gods #3. The last of Guy Davis’ big, weird beasts in the ongoing story. I hope to write more about Davis later.
  • Generation Hope #4 (Marvel). The new mutants catch a breather on Utopia. Kieron Gillen clearly has something big in mind with Kenji, and introduces some romance to the story. Still happy to be pulling this book.
  • Marvel Girl #1 (One-Shot) (Marvel). Part of a series of kind of strange tie-ins with the upcoming First Class movie; strange in the sense of involving characters who are not necessarily in the film. Not much new or interesting here.
  • The New York Five #2 (DC/Vertigo). After reading this, I find it hard to believe that four issues are going to provide any kind of resolution to the lives of the main characters. Brian Wood is hitting some interesting notes in Lona’s story and how some students react to being challenged in college.
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. #6 (Marvel). Remains fascinating to read and look at. The introduction of Michelangelo seems to bring the first chapter to a close.
  • Silver Surfer #1 (Marvel). One of my favorite characters from the Marvel Universe. Greg Pak writes an efficient introduction to the Surfer’s history, while also getting his voice right. Interesting premise.
  • Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #2 (Dark Horse). Okay, so not a were-Buffalo, but still looking to be a wicked Victorian Western. Mike Mignola and John Arcudi include some nice meta-commentary on pulps, and John Severin and Dave Stewart effectively evoke a sparsely populated, but strange and dangerous Frontier.
  • Spider-Girl #4 (Marvel). Not sure about the latest plot twist, but I like how Paul Tobin is using the title to deal with superheroism on a day-to-day kind of basis. I like Matthew Southworth (Stumptown) as an artist, but many of the characters here end up looking older than they should.
  • Spike #5 (IDW). Brian Lynch writes a really weird dynamic between Spike and Willow, way too familiar with each other.
  • Uncanny X-Force #5 (Marvel). Rick Remender starts a new story line. I read the beginning twice to make sure I got the set up. Despite the change in art team, character design continues to be a strength of for the title. Probably helps that regular cover artist, Esad Ribic, is on pencils now.
  • Uncanny X-Men #533 (Marvel). Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen find a new way to keep their main story interesting. Tired of complaining about Greg Land.
  • Wolverine & Jubilee #2 (Marvel). For me, stronger than the first issue, mostly because the story promised by the title begins to take off. Kathryn Immonen’s writing is sharp and poignant. Phil Noto’s character designs and artwork are gorgeous and real.

Longer takes:

  • X-Men: Legacy #245 (“Age of X” Chapter 1) and New Mutants #22 (“Age of X” Chapter 2) (Marvel). Mike Carey gets into the real story with this crossover, and I love the recasting of Rogue as “Legacy/The Reaper”. I also like what gets revealed about who Magneto has stashed away in high security prison. A very promising start, although like Kelly Thompson and Chad Nevett at CBR I am not sure that starting with last month’s Age of X Alpha issue was necessary or smart. Narratively, that installment does not provide much illumination; if anything it obscures certain aspects of the story that seems to be emerging. One thing I don’t understand about the character design for this world is how many of the characters are lacking for clothing (while at the same time looking far less porn star-y than anyone in Uncanny X-Men right now). A sign of deprivation or degradation maybe?
  • Angel: Illyria: Haunted #4 (IDW). This brings the mini to a close. Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner wrote an interesting story that became my favorite Angel book, not just because the other titles are floundering in one way or another, but because they did something interesting with the character. How the changes they introduce play out in the main title is one thing I am looking forward to now. Elena Casagrande and Illaria Traversi draw some wonderfully cool and beautiful panels to show the new Illyria in all her glory. I should also add that Jenny Frisson’s covers have been gorgeous, and this month’s is the best.
  • Birds of Prey #10 (DC). Oracle dies so Barbara Gordon can live. In terms of the DCU this seems to mean that Barbara is recasting herself to work with a narrow circle of the Bat Family on the premise that Oracle got to be too much of a known actor to be effective. That wider work will be taken over by Proxy (a character I don’t know that well). This resolution opens a host of questions, such as, for starters, what happens when Proxy is in Oracle’s position? Won’t she also become a liability to herself in the same way? Or is she not as good at the job? And if that’s true, is it, in fact, better to “kill” Oracle? Best part of the issue: Black Canary and Huntress’ meet-up with Catwoman. Moments like that are why I pull this title.
  • Carbon Grey (Image). I picked this up on the basis of interesting-looking preview pages. The first issue is mostly set-up and prologue, some of which coheres and some of which does not. My fear is that the work will be more mythology than story. There is an amazing list of creators attached to this title in terms of numbers, a collective of five total, and whether that will prove to be a strength or not will only be seen in the coming installements, now that the set-up is done. The art, credited to Khari Evans, Kinsun Loh, and Hoang Nguyen, is gorgeous, and even playful in certain panels, but I wonder about the pastiche of influences in the design of the storyworld. I am most leery of what it will mean that WW I Germany seems to be a primary source of inspiration. Of course, that all depends on what our heroes are all about, and I’m not sure of that yet.
  • I, Zombie #11 (DC/Vertigo). The final page makes this out to be a chapter ender, and at an interesting moment, with a lot of stories and characters in flux. There’s a love for Eugene that is coming through in Michael and Laura Allred’s art that is becoming more and more important to the story as the title progresses. Chris Roberson and Michael Allred have also quickly morphed the book into an ensemble work, anchored by Gwen, but developing the other characters in their own ways, and not just in relationship to everyone’s favorite zombie gravedigger. I am happy that A and I read this together.
  • X-23 #6 and #7 (Marvel). Obviously, Mr. Sinister in female form will be resurfacing, and I don’t know what I think about that, but #7 is a good read. I think that titles like X-23, which attempt to develop a single character with more of a cult than a mass following, should have more issues like this, where there are connections into the larger story universe, but that are more about the main character than anything else. I also think that Sana Takeda’s art is a nice diversion, though too precious for more than an issue or two. The main theme for Marjorie Liu is Laura’s evolving sense of ethics. That also comes through strongly in both the interim conclusion to the Sinister narrative and the pirate story.

TPBs:

Astonishing X-Men Volume 6: Exogenetic (Marvel).

Given his interest in science and scientists, Warren Ellis is a natural match for an X-book, and thankfully it is one of the “boutique” titles rather than one caught in the mainstream of continuity. Love seeing Abigail Brand being put to good use, with only passing references to her romantic relationship with Hank. The payoff to this volume is somehow simultaneously interesting and underwhelming, which, to be fair, seems to be the characters’ reaction, too.

DMZ Volume 9: MIA (DC/Vertigo).

I always like seeing anthology stories in this series. Bringing in new artists and taking a moment to check-in on different characters and parts of the city helps to draw out the storyworld. But I am also interested to see how Brian Wood is showing Matty Roth’s maturity, and in the idea of someone deciding to personally hold themselves accountable for the mess that is New York (the fact that he is deferring that moment is important, I think, in terms of making him remain a fully developed and developing character).

Finder: Voice (Dark Horse).

My first venture into Carla Speed McNeil’s world, and I am looking forward to backing up and reading the earlier stories. The art is charming and vibrant, reminding me of the Hernandez Brothers in that way. The social dynamics of Anvard are complicated, and clearly draw on “our” world, but are deftly presented and part of a universe all their own at the same time. Rachel neatly encapsulates the tensions of contradictions of the story.

Freeway (Fantagraphics Books).

First off, I’m not sure that the back cover description does this book justice, at least in the sense that it seems to assume some clarity to the levels of reality represented that I’m not is definitive. Reading this book keeps you constantly off balance, in a way that is both frustrating and exciting at the same time, likely mimicking how Alex feels stuck in traffic. Mark Kalesniko experiments with a number of cinematic and comics conventions to transition between and connect levels of the narrative, and that also kept me reading forward, often past when I was ready to turn out the light and sleep. Puzzling over the nature of the different realities is one thing I am left with at the end of the book. Wondering why Alex is a dog is another.

Gotham Central Book 1: In the Line of Duty (DC).

My expectations were pretty high for this collection, which is probably why it took me awhile to warm up to it. The series takes off for me when the focus is placed clearly on Renee Montoya, and when I started to notice the Homicide homages. That latter insight is important not just for the cool, but also for how I reframed the book in my head as more of a police procedural and less of a badges and capes text.

Morning Glories Volume 1: For a Better Future (Image).

Forthcoming.

X-Men Forever 2 Volume 2: Scream a Little Scream (Marvel).

With this series ending this volume is a reminder of what I will miss most: Chris Claremont’s weird, but compelling efforts at sharpening and giving Kitty’s character a darker aspect. I also think it would have been interesting to see how the triangle of Mystique, Rogue, and Nightcrawler worked itself out. That being written the trade that follows this one is not a bad way to close.

January comics

From tfaw:

Monthly comics:

Angel: Illyria: Haunted #2 (IDW)

Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner have a good idea for a story started. Given how few episodes Illyria appeared in, I imagine that she is a good character to write. Getting the voice right remains hard.

Birds of Prey #8 (DC)

“The Death of Oracle” story continues and the title seems to have found some stability in the art. Gail Simone writes strong stories about the human/meta-human divide and this looks to be one of those, at least in part.

B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: Gods #1 (Dark Horse)

The new story starts fast with a cast of unfamiliar characters, but ends with an awesomely rendered final page. Guy Davis also designs a great-looking, though enigmatic, cover.

Casanova: Gula #1 (Marvel Icon)

Another new story starts. Lots going on, people intersecting from different timelines, and Casanova missing in one of them. Full of the kind of action and geekry I have come to expect from this title.

Generation Hope #3 (Marvel)

I am wondering where this title goes after all of the new mutants have been found and pacified by Hope. I suppose this issue is an indication, with them coming together as a team somehow, but that Kieron Gillen’s next story arc should be even more of an indication of this.

Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #1 (Dark Horse)

Scott Hampton’s style is slicker than I am used to seeing on this title, but Mike Mignola’s story seems like creepy fun. Short mini.

I, Zombie #9 (DC/Vertigo)

Gwen and Horatio finally have a date, while the vampires scheme, Ellie gets jealous, and maybe rash, and Scott deals with his life. This is turning into quite the ensemble title.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #5 (Marvel)

Settles into kind of a conventional action thriller mode, unless you count all of the zipping around in time and space. This title is so strange, that I wonder that Marvel allows Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver make it at all, especially since they are radically shaping the history of one of the Marvel Universe’s key institutions. And, yet, here it is.

Spider-Girl #2 (Marvel)

Quick, dramatic, and maybe not so positive turn in the story. I am guessing it will take a few issues to work through the implication sof what happens to Anya here. Less encouraging is the splitting of the art.

Spike #4 (IDW)

The point of this issue is pretty well revealed at the end. Drusilla remains a work in progress. I think that Nicola Zanni’s Dru can grown on me, but there is a lot of variation in how she looks here, with face and body not quite settled yet.

Uncanny X-Men #531 (Marvel)

I will say this about this title right now: as per my prior comments, I do not like Greg Land’s style. But it does work for Lobe’s alternate X-Men. The panel where they gather to go be heroes is well drawn, and the plastic-y, beautiful look works well for these wannabes. It still remains a problem for many in the main cast; I even think he manages to make Emma boring, despite the fact that she is a character who can also wear his style well.

X-23 #4 (Marvel)

So, Laura gets her own story after all. Maybe Marjorie Liu is finally getting some ownership now that “Wolverine Goes to Hell” is behind her. One thing I have noticed about this title is that covers are often oddly inappropriate. This month, we see X-23 in X-Force mode, but most of the time she is drawn as some kind of sexy fashion plate. None of these looks has had much to do with the stories.

TPBs:

Batman: Joker’s Asylum Volume 2 (DC)

Ordered this to scree for A, who loves Harley Quinn and likes the Batverse. On the whole, a reminder of how depraved Gotham is, but I also found Mike Raicht’s (writer), David Yardin’s & Cliff Richards’ (art) and Jose Villarrubia (colors) Killer Croc story to be strangely affecting, especially the by the time the next to last panel shows.

Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men Volume 3 (Marvel)

Forthcoming.

X-Men Forever 2 Volume 1: Back in Action (Marvel)

Fun-ish sideshow with Rogue and Spider-Man, and the reemergence of the Morlocks. Mystique. High soap opera. Pretty much what you expect from this series.

Digital comics (from comiXology):

Suburban Glamour #1-4 (Image)

Probably the best thing I read this month. Beautiful, pop-y art from Jamie McKelvie and a story that nicely intertwines classic genre elements and fantasy with contemporary suburban ennui. Maybe moves too quick and crams too much in, and points towards sequels a little too broadly, especially if they never happen. What I like most about McKelvie’s art is how real it looks despite the simplicity. Renders well on my iPhone, except for the letters pages, which are next to impossible to read that way.